All posts by TheTraumaPro

Trauma Survival and Air vs Ground Transport

Wartime experience has shown that rapid transport from the battlefield scene of injury to definitive care dramatically improves survival. This has been translated into civilian trauma care by making helicopter transport to a trauma center more widely available. But this resource is still somewhat limited, and very expensive compared to ground EMS transport. Is this expense warranted, or in other words, does it improve survival?

Many have tried to answer this question. Several of these studies did show improved survival with air transport, but most had significant flaws that made their conclusions hard to interpret. The current issue of JAMA has published an article from MIEMSS and Johns Hopkins that tries to do it right.

The authors used the National Trauma Data Bank (1.8M records) and whittled it down to 223K by using pertinent exclusion criteria. About 25% were transported by air and 72% were taken to Level I centers (vs Level II). A sophisticated regression model was used to adjust for missing data and clustering by trauma centers.

They found that there is roughly a 1.5% survival advantage in taking patients to trauma centers by air. About 65 patients need to be transported to a Level I center, or 69 patients to a Level II center, to save a life. There are some issues with the statistics, primarily due to the nature of the NTDB data, but overall the paper is nicely done.

Bottom line: It looks like helicopter transport of seriously injured trauma patients conveys a very small survival advantage. However, this does not mean that everybody now needs to be flown in. This is not an ideal world, and not everybody is in an area that can provide such transport. Furthermore, in many areas ground EMS is still faster than air. And finally, air transport is much more expensive than the incremental survival increase may be worth. We will have to come to grips as a society to figure out what we can really afford.

Reference: Association between helicopter vs ground emergency medical services and survival for adults with major trauma. JAMA 307(15):1602-1610, April 18, 2012.

What The Heck? The Answer

The photo on Friday shows a woman who had been run over by her own car. The vehicle had rolled over her pelvis and stopped, requiring extrication. The most likely injury is an open book pelvic fracture with significant diastasis and/or bilateral unstable sacral fractures.

If you see this clinical presentation there are several things you need to do immediately:

  1. Call for blood. Losses will be large, so you may even want to consider activating your massive transfusion protocol.
  2. Call an orthopedic surgeon. External stabilization will be needed to help decrease blood loss.
  3. Consider early intubation for control of pain. You will be doing a lot, and a patient in agony will slow you down. Your patient is already hypovolemic, so plan your drug choices accordingly.
  4. Search for evidence of an open fracture. Do a good rectal and vaginal exam looking for blood.

The pelvic xray is poor quality, but shows the major problem, a 10cm pubic diastasis from the open book pelvis fracture. Wrapping the pelvis may be of some help, but consult your orthopedic surgeon first. This pelvis is probably not connected to the spine anymore, so wrapping may have variable results.

Delayed Splenic Rupture: Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about the history of “delayed splenic rupture.” Today I’ll discuss how to deal with it.

If possible, try to avoid ever having to mess around with this clinical problem. If you order an abdominal CT after blunt trauma and see a splenic contrast blush of either type (pseudoaneurysm or extravasation, see left photo), then deal with it before the patient even knows he has a problem. A trip to interventional radiology will usually solve the problem. And if embolized, these patients almost never come back with a bleeding problem.

As I’ve said many times before, if the patient is hemodynamically compromised, then an OR visit is required. The usual solution is splenectomy. Some recommend repairing the spleen, but this is technically more difficult than it sounds, and it is difficult for the surgeon to sleep soundly after performing one of these.

Lets say you inherited one of these from someone else, or ignored the warning signs on the initial CT. The usual time frame for presentation to the ED with acute bleeding is 7 to 10 days after the initial injury. If they are not stable, physical exam or FAST will quickly direct you to the OR, once again for splenectomy. Some patients will stabilize with fluids and can safely be sent to CT scan.

Once the CT confirms what the problem is, a trip to interventional radiology is in order if the patient remains stable. Here is the key: the radiologist must embolize something! If they find a bleeding vessel, then they can selectively embolize it. If they don’t, then the main splenic artery should be embolized. This will decrease the arterial pressure head, but won’t eliminate it. It will decrease the likelihood of additional bleeding as much as possible.

At this point, the patient should be admitted to the trauma service and monitored using your solid organ injury protocol. If they have any hemodynamic issues, it’s time to remove the spleen. Remember, this is the third time they’ve had a problem, and like in baseball, their spleen is out! Attempted splenorrhaphy at this point is pointless and may lead to yet another operation.

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